While the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation, shutting down schools and all non-essential businesses, the effects could be seen and felt throughout the country, even in small communities such as Hoisington. With spring sports canceled, graduations postponed, numerous job layoffs, and the economic and financial struggles being felt on all levels, it can often be difficult to find the positive in these kinds of situations. However, especially in this part of Kansas, it’s important to remember that times of crisis bring out the best in people and inspire communities to come together (even if it’s 6 feet apart). Clara Barton Hospital and Clinics felt the outpouring of love and support firsthand as the community came together providing donations, supplies, and pure compassion amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In early March, as the virus began to spread across the nation, Clara Barton Hospital & Clinics devised a COVID-19 Response Team, which included members of the medical staff, nursing, leadership, and public relations, in order to prepare for what was to come. In the weeks prior to the spread of the virus within Central Kansas, the team worked together, implementing policies and procedures that were needed to protect the employees, patients, and community from widespread transmission. While meeting every morning, one of the many key topics discussed was the facility’s supply of personal protective equipment, such as masks, gowns, and facial protection, also referred to as PPE.
As the outbreak expanded across the United States, the increase in demand of PPE left many healthcare facilities struggling to replenish their supplies, both in highly infected areas and in areas with no confirmed cases. PPE is described as any equipment designed to protect the wearer from injury or the spreading of infection/illness, such as gloves, gowns, clothing, face shields, goggles, and respirators. Healthcare facilities around the country were faced with the shortage and forced to establish methods to conserve their remaining supply and organize a plan if that supply were to run out.
As the CDC recommended strategies to help medical facilities conserve PPE, the Clara Barton COVID-19 Response Team made it a priority to find innovative ways the organization could not only conserve PPE, but remain one step ahead by creating their own.
“Working in healthcare requires flexibility and adaptation, especially in fluid situations such as the recent pandemic,” said Clara Barton Infection Control Nurse, Kacey Beck, RN. “The pressure to find alternative solutions was felt across the Midwest as the majority of resources have been directed to urban areas impacted significantly by COVID-19.”
Cloths masks offer the lowest level of protection for the wearer, but because many individuals with COVID-19 don’t show any symptoms, they make a great addition to social distancing and help prevent spreading this virus to others. Surgical masks offer additional protection, made of medical-grade material and are worn by those in contact with patients. The N95 masks offer the highest level of protection and are worn by healthcare workers in direct contact with COVID-19 patients or those with COVID-19 symptoms.
“While we were brainstorming ideas, it was discovered that a near replica of an N95 mask could be made using a 3D printer,” said Sydney Rugan, Public Relations Director at Clara Barton Hospital and Clinics.
After extensive research, a 3D mask template was discovered online, published from Billings Clinic in Montana. This template was designed by medical professionals and includes an improved way to insert a medical-grade fabric filter that snaps in place, making it easy to change out between uses. With the template ready to go, the next step was to find somewhere local they could be printed.
The Clara Barton COVID-19 Response team reached out to connections at H&B Communications, USD 112 in Claflin and USD 431 in Hoisington to see if their technology skills and 3D printing equipment could get the job done.
“I was very excited to help with this project, as I felt a strong sense of duty to do what I could to help during this time,” said Scott Mitchum, Technology Director at Central Plains High School in Claflin. “Medical workers have been the true heroes in this pandemic throughout the world and we are just a few of those who have done what they could to support them.”
Mitchum describes a 3D printer as a “glorified hot glue gun,” melting plastic material that is squeezed out of a small nozzle in a precise template under computer control. One layer is printed and dried before printing the next layer. Then as each layer adheres to the next, thousands of layers form a solid object. Depending on the printer, each mask takes between 7-11 hours to make from start to finish.
After Mitchum began a steady production of masks, using multiple of his personal 3D printers all at one time, word spread in the community and sparked interest in others. Dustin Robinson and Lukas Sidzyik were additional USD 112 staff that enlisted their time and resources to assist in mask production, along with Brandon Koch and Kyle Beck with H&B Communications in Holyrood, and Kody Cook from USD 431.
“Within just a couple weeks, these individuals were able to produce over 160 3D masks, which was enough for every clinical staff member throughout our organization to have a 3D mask of their own,” said Rugan. “These 3D masks can be sterilized and reused over and over again.”
During the first weeks of the outbreak, 3D printed masks weren’t the only PPE being donated to help the frontline healthcare workers at Clara Barton Hospital and Clinics. Others began sending extra N95 and surgical masks they had on hand, as well as, face shields, ear savers, gloves, and hand sanitizer. From near and far, donations of all kinds began pouring in, especially cloth masks.
“After hearing on the news that there was a shortage of protective gear for hospital staff, I decided this was a great opportunity to put my skills to use,” said Kiley Demel. “I had a sewing machine and some time on my hands, so making cloth masks was a way for me to do my part.”
What started with friends and family putting sewing skills to use by making cloth masks for hospital and clinic employees, evolved into an outpouring of support from the community. Within a week of the CDC recommending the public wear cloth masks as another layer of social distancing, Clara Barton Hospital and Clinics received hundreds of cloth masks from community members wanting to help those on the frontline.
“Clara Barton Hospital and Clinics have been so supportive and helpful over the years that I just wanted to pay it forward by helping them during this difficult time,” said Deb Reif. “If one mask saves just one person, then it was all worthwhile.”
While some donated PPE to help keep the healthcare workers safe, others were donating treats hoping to help keep them sane. Businesses such as the Hoisington Dairy Queen and Koch Industries donated treats for the entire staff to help lift their spirits. When the school year came to an abrupt halt, the Hoisington High School Booster Club also donated their leftover candy and pop from concession stands, spreading smiles and feelings of gratitude throughout the organization.
“Our community is one to be proud, that’s for certain,” said Rugan. “We cannot thank you all enough, not only for the donations of masks, hand sanitizer, gloves, treats, and everything in between, but for the endless love and support. We are truly blessed!”
We would like to send our sincere gratitude to the members of our community for the outpouring of love and support we have received during these unprecedented times! Your generosity and kindness mean so very much and we can’t thank you all enough for all you’ve done to support our organization and employees during this time.
A special thank you to those who donated their time, talents, efforts, supplies, and treats to us over the past couple months:
WE THANK YOU TOO!